With one win in the books for each of the previous four seasons — good enough to make the playoffs, but not really enough to make him a title contender — Ryan Blaney was getting a reputation for being a driver with a one-win ceiling. And while plenty of drivers have had long and fruitful careers winning a race here and there, Blaney entered 2021 hoping to prove that he could win multiple races.
Indeed, 2021 was a breakout year for Blaney, who won three races, including the final two races of the regular season. He was the only driver at Team Penske to win more than one race, and he showed good speed just about everywhere, with two wins at intermediate tracks and one at Daytona.
If luck had been on his side, Blaney might have had even more to brag about. The best-positioned of three Team Penske drivers in the Round of 8, Blaney saw his bid for the Championship 4 go sour off Austin Dillon’s front bumper at Kansas Speedway. The crash erased the best regular-season momentum of his career.
Blaney’s consistency will be put to the test in 2022. Changes within the Penske organization extend to his team; not only will he have a new teammate in rookie Austin Cindric, who replaces veteran Brad Keselowski, but he’ll also have a new crew chief after Todd Gordon announced that he was stepping away from that role. Jonathan Hassler, who called the shots for the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 for most of 2021, will take the reins of the No. 12 team.
It can take time for a driver and crew chief to learn to communicate effectively, so how fast the team jells could play a major role in how the season goes for Blaney. Chemistry is important, and it will be even more critical as the team learns the ins and outs of the new racecar.
Blaney and Co. will also have to learn to work with Cindric and the No. 2 team, and how well teammates can share and use information certainly contributes to performance. If they like a similar feel to the cars, it can make searching for setups more effective, but it they don’t, they can still work together in helping the other try different approaches to the cars and racing lines. Veteran teammate Joey Logano will also be an important piece of the organizational puzzle, as he’s now the most senior driver there.
Backing is solid for Blaney, with BODYARMOR, Menards, Advance Auto Parts and DEX Imaging expected to return to the hood this year.
Blaney shouldn’t have trouble making the playoffs. He’s been a consistent winner for the last five seasons, but he’s strong enough to make it on points if push comes to shove. Two of his seven career wins have come in playoff races, at the Charlotte Roval in 2018 and Talladega in 2019. He has yet to make the title race as a contender, though, and an additional win or two in the final 10 races would go a long way toward that end. Blaney came close in 2021, and he can make that step this year. To do so, he has to keep luck in his favor and find a little more consistency late in the playoff run.
Blaney is for sure a strong top-10 contender entering 2022. The big question is whether he can be more than that — he’s finished between seventh and 10th in points for the last five years. That’s impressive and speaks to his talent, but he needs to ramp it up just a bit to be considered a perennial contender. He’s just missed the mark so far, but coming off his best season yet, he’s in good position to better his overall finish if he handles changes well and can woo Lady Luck to his side.